(Penguin Eggs issue #63) Is there such a thing as a perfect album? Of course we don’t think of art in those terms, but it’s an interesting thought experiment. There are works of art that feel perfect, such as Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, Greg Foley’s Thank You Bear, two children’s books that are about as perfect as you could imagine a children’s book to be. There might be other examples, too: Rembrandt’s Self-Portrait, (1658), Citizen Kane, “Jabberwocky,” the albums Louis Armstrong made with Ella Fitzgerald.
What puts them in the running, were we to play this game, are the things that they share: the artifice is less apparent than the message, the picture transcends the brush strokes. They are economical, powerful without shouting, made with care and skill though the stories come forward, not the storytellers. They avoid clichés, and offer more than you get at first glance without demanding or requiring study. They affect us, they feel close to us, they display dignity even when winking an eye. And if there are any faults, we willingly choose to overlook them in a visceral appreciation of what they have to offer.
This is all very grand, I realize, but I’d say that the latest release from Red June, titled Ancient Dreams, does all those things. The skill is clear, the musicianship is deft, the vocal harmonies are fresh and atypical. It’s a quiet album, for the most part, and the songs are allowed to speak for themselves. And it’s remarkably rich. “I Saw You In August” is a study in arranging, complex and delicately crafted to allow the focus to shift around the story that’s being told. It’s brilliant, actually. In fact, the whole album is, and for the same reasons.
Is it a perfect album? I know that it sounds ridiculous, but frankly I’d venture that it is. If I’m wrong, I’d be interested to know why. I really would.